By Ruth Burr, SEOmoz
Whether it’s a product, service, instructions, or just information, most people use major search engines like Google and Bing to find what they want. Most businesses can’t afford to ignore search engine optimization (SEO) anymore – the potential audience is too vast.
SEO is about improving and promoting your website so that more people can find it using search engines. Many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) feel that they don’t have the time or resources to compete for search traffic, especially when they’re up against major retailers like Amazon or eBay. The truth is that there are many ways for SMBs to compete for search traffic – especially if they are smart about allocating time and budget. Here are some free and inexpensive ways a business can get better at SEO.
A small business with a small budget probably can’t go after search keywords that have a lot of national competition. Instead of chasing an impossible dream, think hard about the keywords you can target and rank for that will get the most bang for your buck. Locally focused keywords are usually a great place to start. If you’re a plumber in Des Moines, you don’t need to rank for “plumbing” or even “Iowa plumber” – you’ll have more success targeting “Des Moines plumber” (and get better qualified leads as a result, too).
Don’t have a locally focused business? Figure out what your niche is. Dive into what makes your business unique (your Unique Value Proposition) and start there. You may not be able to rank for “wedding jewelry” but you could rank for “unique vintage-inspired wedding jewelry” or “eco-friendly wedding jewelry.”
The other area in which it’s important for SMBs to be realistic is the amount of time SEO will take. Full-time SEO can often start getting results for a site in a month or two, but if you’re not able to devote that kind of time or budget to SEO it’s going to take longer than that to see results – maybe as much as a year or two. Even in the best of cases, SEO isn’t a quick fix so don’t expect a turnaround overnight. It can help to have more specific goals than just “more traffic” or “more revenue.” Are there specific keywords you want to rank for? Specific products you’d most like to sell? These can help you prioritize your efforts more efficiently.
Dress the Part
Search engines are leery of businesses that don’t seem credible. Take some time to make sure you’ve got an up-to-date, professional design (using some of your precious budget to update your design would probably not go amiss). This would also be a good time to do some good old-fashioned brand building. Search engines trust established brands more, because users do! So when you build your brand you’ll be doing better with both.
The most important component of both on-site SEO and link building is that you have something compelling to optimize and share. With that in mind, start thinking about how you can make your website a resource for your users. Start brainstorming ideas for unique, interesting content pieces you can share with your community, and then make an editorial calendar so everyone on your team is on the same page about when new content will be added. You can even bring in a part-time writer as budget allows.
Use What You Have
You already have a website – before you do anything else, you might as well make your site the best site it can be. Just like you’d clean up your house before inviting people over for a party, make your site as search-friendly as you can before you start trying to attract more search engine attention to it. The SEOmoz Beginner’s Guide to SEO has some great starter tips for things to improve on your site, including code, page speed, usability and content.
Now is also the time to sign up for some free tools. If you don’t already have analytics installed, Google Analyticsis a must-have. It allows you to track user behavior all over your site, including where visitors come from and what they do or buy. You should also sign up for a Google Webmaster Tools account, so you can easily monitor errors and traffic spikes on your site.
Some additional free resources for on-site SEO:
More doesn’t always mean better, especially in the case of link building. It’s better to build good links from trusted sources than to resort to shady practices just to build link volume.
Start by asking yourself “who are my website’s friends?” Any partners, vendors, colleagues, professional associations or other websites with which your business is affiliated are a great place to start reaching out for links. It’s easy to ask them, too, since you already know them! See if you can write a guest post on their blog, or if they’d like to write (and link to) a post on yours.
Next, take a look at the sites that you want to link to you. This might include:
Open Site Explorer is a great tool for viewing which sites link to other sites, whether yours or your competitors. The full option requires a paid membership, but there is a free version that will give you some data until you’re ready to invest in a tool. Once you’ve got a list of sites from which you’d like a link, start reaching out and trying to build relationships with the site owners. Don’t just call or email asking for the link; instead, see where you can form a longer-term partnership. What can you do for the site owner? How can you collaborate? These relationships yield more links over time. You don’t have to spend all your time doing this – focus on ten or so sites at a time.
Keep it Going
The most important thing you can do for your website’s SEO is to keep doing it. Keep making changes and improvements to your website, then measuring their effect with Google Analytics and making further improvements as necessary. Keep creating new content pieces, measuring how well they resonate with your users and link targets, and creating new pieces accordingly. Keep prospecting for new link targets, building relationships with them, and maintaining them over time. Even if you don’t have a lot of time to devote to any of these things, doing a little at a time over a long period of time will be far more effective than a set-it-and-forget-it approach.
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